DAT Solutions: Load volumes edge up, rates search for a gear

February 27, 2020

Special to Land Line


Spot truckload rates on DAT MembersEdge gained a penny or two last week, but national average van, reefer and flatbed rates remain lower than where they were in January.

The good news is load-to-truck ratios are increasing and the flatbed market is showing more signs of life as construction projects and produce harvests pick up in the mild weather.

National average spot rates, February (through Feb. 23)

  • Van: $1.79 per mile, down 8 cents from the January average.
  • Reefer: $2.10 per mile, down 14 cents compared to January.
  • Flatbed: $2.14 per mile, down 3 cents compared to January.

Van trends

We’re watching – and waiting – for effects of the coronavirus on supply chains to hit domestic trucking.

Imports are down at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which is not unexpected. Less freight is crossing the Pacific from China, where factories extended their Lunar New Year closures because of related quarantines and travel restrictions. We’re probably still weeks away from the ports and truckers feeling any impact of cancelled or delayed container shipments from Asia.

For now, there are plenty of loads available in the L.A. market amid low inbound and outbound rates. For example, Los Angeles to Chicago dropped 5 cents last week to $1.28 per mile and Chicago to L.A. lost 3 cents to $1.40. L.A. to Atlanta averaged $1.40 a mile, down 6 cents, and the return lane slipped 3 cents to $1.33.

Last week’s national van average looks pretty good by comparison.

Reefer trends

The national average reefer load-to-truck ratio rose slightly from 3.7 to 3.8 last week but rates were down on 37 of the top 72 reefer lanes.

If you want to make a little money before spring has sprung, head south to pick up some loads. Miami and Lakeland, Fla., are heating up, and so are Dallas and McAllen, Texas, and the Tucson market in Arizona. McAllen and Tucson are popular border crossings for Mexican produce import loads. Several key lanes have been on the rise lately.

  • Miami to Atlanta: $1.84 per mile, up 8 cents compared to the previous week.
  • Lakeland to Charlotte: $1.65, up 7 cents.
  • Tucson to Los Angeles: $2.23, up 5 cents.

Tri-haul of the week

Last week the average spot rate for vans from Chicago to Denver was $2.40 a mile. A lot of freight flows into Denver but not a lot comes out, and Denver is notorious for low-paying outbound lanes. True to form, Denver to Chicago averaged $1.06 a mile.

The professional version of DAT MembersEdge can help you build a tri-haul by suggesting higher-paying third lanes for loads on your return trip.

One of those routes would take you through North Platte, Nebraska, which is on the way if you’re on I-76 and I-80. The current average from Denver to North Platte is $1.90 a mile, which is better than the national average. North Platte to Chicago pays $1.49 per mile – not fabulous, but it beats $1.07 from Denver to Chicago.

The straight roundtrip from Chicago to Denver, averaging both ways, pays $1.73 per loaded mile. The three-legged route through North Platte averages out to $2 per mile, an increase of 27 cents per mile.

For the straight round trip you’d make a total of $3,508 but the tri-haul would bump it up to $4,057 without adding miles to your trip (there may be some deadhead involved since the North Platte market covers a pretty big geographic area). If it works with your schedule and hours of service, picking up loads on this tri-haul could be a good option.

DAT tri-haul chart
Courtesy DAT Solutions

These rates represent averages from last week and this week could be different. Negotiate the best deal you can get on every haul, and look at the rates and load-to-truck ratios in MembersEdge to understand which way prices are trending.

Rates are derived from DAT RateView, which provides real-time reports on prevailing spot market and contract rates, as well as historical rate and capacity trends. All reported rates include fuel surcharges.

For the latest spot market load availability and rate information, visit the load board or tune in to Land Line Now. You can get all of the latest rate information at DAT.com per industry-trends per Trendlines, comment on the DAT Freight Talk blog, or join us on Facebook. On Twitter you can tweet your questions to us @LoadBoards and have your questions answered by DAT industry analyst Mark Montague.

Check last week’s DAT report here.